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Welcome to the fourth installment of the Sandman winter readalong! This week we’ll be talking about both A Game of You v5 #32-37 and Fables and Reflections v6 #29-31, 38-40, 50 and Special #1. At 14 issues this is our biggest chunk so far. If you’re reading in the graphic novel collections, then this was a pretty straightforward jump from volume 5 to 6. But if you, like me, are reading the issues in order in the Absolute Editions, this week required some jumping around. A$$loads of SPOILERS AHEAD.

By all accounts, A Game of You was one of the least popular Sandman storylines. People didn’t like the art, or the story. Retailers didn’t like the covers, since A Game of You was writ large, and Sandman small. Also, many readers were troubled, including the GN collections introduction writer Samuel R. Delany, by the deaths of two characters at the end of the story, Wanda the transexual, and Maisie Dobbs, the homeless “I don’t like dogs” woman. Delany (spot on, IMO) calls out Gaiman for killing off the two outsider characters. He concludes, though, that if you read the story, carefully, in the details, that what’s being put forth isn’t easily reducible.

I’ve read this story many times. Every time it makes me cry. I absolutely love the detail of the cute frog mug. So many, many lovely characters die in it, but none of them are white and hetero-normative. (Or human, for that matter.)

I’ve come to terms with all the deaths but one. Wanda, based on the set up of the story, had to die. Alas, she had to die in order for Barbie to learn, and this is not just an unfortunate trope, it’s a terrible one. But in terms of the story, in which the moon won’t allow Wanda to travel because she has a Y chromosome, and she is left behind in the brownstone in a hurricane, it makes sense that she dies, and her funeral and Barbie’s memoriams to her (including her dream) give Wanda a lovely rich, well-deserved goodbye.

Here are the things that make me not pissed (though always sad) about Wanda’s death: Barbie’s scribbling Wanda’s name on her grave with pink (which echoes her heaving of the pink Porpentine at the grey stone Hierogram in the skerry), and Wanda’s appearance in the dream, which in the context of this story, in which all the dreams are real, and all that’s real is artificial and constructed and shifting, is her true self, as Death encounters her, as a lovely person and woman. I do not see her as conflicted in her identity, which Delany scolds Gaiman about, nor do I see that the moon’s opinion about Y chromosomes is the author’s. Wanda is simply afraid of surgery; she KNOWS her identity and claimed it by leaving Kansas and becoming a New Yorker named Wanda who spouts Yiddish.

Gaiman says his aim in the story was to show that all of us, no matter how boring and bland on the outside, contains worlds of wonder within. Mission: accomplished.

The death I cannot and won’t forgive is that of Maisie Dobbs. Wanda’s character is deepened when she goes to help Maisie, and Wanda dying is part of Barbie’s character, but Maisie’s is not necessary, and killing a black homeless character for slight story reasons (unlike Wanda’s which I read as major) to protect a pretty white cisgendered girl is an cruel, thoughtless cliche. Shame on you, Neil Gaiman, and I hope you now regret that story choice.

Now, to see if I can sum up (ha!) Fables and Reflections. Courtesy of Wikipedia:

Fables and Reflections collecting The Sandman #29—31, 38—40, 50; Sandman Special #1; and Vertigo Preview #1: A collection of short stories set throughout Morpheus’ history, most of them originally published directly before or directly after the “Game of You” story arc. Four issues, dealing with kings and rulers, were originally published under the label “Distant Mirrors,” while three others, detailing the meetings of various characters, were published as the “Convergences” arc. Fables and Reflections includes the Sandman Special, originally published as a stand-alone issue, which assimilates the myth of Orpheus into the Sandman mythos, as well as a very short Sandman story from the Vertigo Preview promotional comic.

I’ll write a little about each.

“Fear of Falling” Gaiman says this refers to a dream he had as a child.

“Thermidor” Lady Johanna Constantine, who we first met in “Men of Good Fortune” and Orpheus on whom more later.

“August” The story itself is OK, but Talbot’s art is the thing for me, with its changing shadows and accumulations of garbage as the day progresses.

“Three Septembers and a January” Never knew about this guy. Lovely story.

“The Hunt” Another one of those seems like a “real” myth but Gaiman made it up.

“Soft Places” More history, with Marco Polo. Best line: I remember when I was just a vicinity. Hints of things to come: who’s hanging out, cooing in him?

“The Song of Orpheus” Gaiman says readers on book tours weren’t familiar enough with the story of Orpheus, which is why he did more of a straight telling of the myth than a series of riffing short stories. Hey, it’s the missing sibling!

Back in the pre-internet days, I nerded out by calling the Classics department at a local university to ask him what Olethros meant after the issue came out to confirm it meant Destruction.

Note: the other Endless never call her “Death,” just our sibling, perhaps a reference to the birth visit Olethros refers to. Also, probably not a good idea to set out on a path that Destruction sets, eh? And, Calliope’s comment about Dream not changing, and maybe even not being able to change, and finally, the ending, which shows again: old-school Dream is a jerk.

“The Parliament of Rooks” Another appearance of Goldie, yay! Also, the first appearance of the Lil Endless. Death laughing at Dream tripping on his cape is hilarious.

“Ramadan” So, so pretty, the art, the colors, the letters. Russell illustrated this from a prose story Gaiman wrote rather than a traditional script. We saw the city in the bottle when Dream put Azazel away in the Season of Mists storyline.

I’m reading the Absolute Edition, which includes a short story about a satyr, beautifully painted by John Bolton and featuring Desire in a non-jerky aspect.

Whew! I think that’s it for this week. Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #SandMN or in the comments. I’ll be here next week to talk about Sandman: Brief Lives v7 #41-49 and Sandman: World’s End v8 #51-56 (15 issues).

What did everyone else think?

Previous posts:

Sandman Readalong week three: link

Sandman Readalong week two: link

Sandman Readalong week one: link

Sandman Readalong schedule: link

One Response to “SANDMAN Readalong 4: A GAME OF YOU and FABLES & REFLECTIONS”

  1. Rox Says:

    Ah, A Game of You is my favorite so far. Surprised to hear that it wasn’t popular, or maybe not. I love how it introduces you to a specific skerry and some people who are connected to it, and even the idea of a skerry! And that you learn about it through a character you have already met and know that despite her “waking” personality has depths and a history. I want to read this one over and over. At the end even though many of the characters are dead, I got the feeling I got at the end of Labyrinth where the muppets from the maze tell Sarah that “should you need us” they will always be there for her. I mean, it’s the dream realm. And also, what is death? If one can travel between hell and the dream realm… Who’s to say they won’t always be there for Barbie? Also I was addicted to my stuffed animals (who were very real to me) as a kid, maybe that’s why I loved this so much.